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Safe schools

Numerous local agencies are working together as part of the Safe School Alliance to create a safe environment for students in Crook County


by: KEVIN SPERL - School Resource Officer Jeff Coffman visits with Crook County High School students Pedro Santos (LEFT), Jordan Korpela, Jacob Mickel and Hannah Shadle.

Sixteen years ago this May, Kip Kingle, then 15 years old, killed his parents, then went to Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, where he killed two classmates and injured 25 others.

As a result of that tragedy, Deschutes County formed CRASH (Crime Reduction At School Houses), an initiative designed to enhance safety within school environments, protect students and teachers and provide immediate accountability for crimes committed at schools.

That organization has evolved into the Safe School Alliance, of which numerous Crook County organizations are members.

“We wanted to come together for common policy and practices for school safety,” said Jayel Hayden, director of human services with the High Desert Education Service District, the agency that facilitates the collaborative effort. “We created protocols on how to get safe school assessments and how we get kids the help they need to keep them in school and prevent violent situations.”

Recently, school district officials from Crook County joined local law enforcement and community service organizations to reaffirm its commitment to the alliance by signing ESD's “Memo of Support and Participation.”

According to ESD’s website, the alliance’s purpose is to provide safe and secure school environments through community and interagency partnerships, and includes students, parents, schools, mental health organizations and law enforcement.

“Keeping our students safe at school continues to be a critical focus for district leaders, law enforcement officials and community members,” said John Rexford, superintendent for HDESD. “Working together through the Safe School Alliance only makes us stronger and more equipped to reduce crime, prevent bullying and create a better environment for students,” he added.

School districts that are part of the alliance include Bend–La Pine, Crook County, Culver, Redmond and Sisters. Law enforcement agencies that have stated a commitment to safe schools include the Bend, Prineville and Redmond Police Departments and the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.

Other agencies involved are the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office, Deschutes County Juvenile Justice, Deschutes County Behavioral Health Services, Oregon Youth Authority, the Commission on Children & Families, the KIDS Center and the Serendipity West Foundation.

According to Prevention Coordinator Kim Bohme, the Kids Center acts as Central Oregon’s local child advocacy organization.

“We are dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child abuse,” she said. “We want the school environment to be conducive to learning and free of violence.”

Bohme explained that all school officials, including teachers and staff, are now required to be mandatory reporters if they have reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect, a change that was instituted subsequent to the Penn State University child sex abuse scandal.

“School staffs know if they see a child in their classroom that is struggling or showing signs of being abused,” she said. “We don’t know the kids but the schools do. The schools are one of our biggest referrals.”

When a report is received, the center becomes a resource to law enforcement, conducting an evaluation of children to determine if abuse has occurred.

“We agree with the philosophy of the safe school alliance,” said Bohme, “And, as a partner in the alliance, we provide training to its members with regards to abuse.”

The alliance states that “every student has the right to attend school in a safe environment free of harassment, intimidation, threats to personal safety, or any other form of violence.”

Providing safe schools for students is everyone’s responsibility.

Students are asked to resolve disputes in a peaceful and responsible manner; seek help from school staff, a parent or any adult they trust if they become aware of a situation that threatens the safety of anyone, and to know and comply with the rules and policies of their school.

Parents have the right to expect that their child's school is providing an opportunity to learn in a safe and supportive environment. They are, however, responsible for knowing and understanding the regulations that govern student activities and the consequences for disobeying those regulations.

Schools focus on academic achievement for all children and promote good citizenship and character, where students have the means to share concerns and feel safe in expressing their feelings.

Finally, law enforcement agencies work in close partnership with school districts to reduce violence, or the threat of violence, in their schools.

Working under the principle that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, school resource officers play a major role in preventing problems before they occur.

Their mere presence in school halls is a positive experience for students, and resource officers are always communicating with students and staff, facilitating problem solving and social skill development and providing training to school personnel.

Prineville Police Officer Jeff Coffman is the school resource officer for the Crook County School District.

“My primary role is security for the schools,” he said. “Often my presence is a simple deterrent to activity that might harm other people. Seeing me around the schools is a good way to stop a lot of things.”

Coffman said that schools need to be seen as cities within a city, with their own population and culture. Unfortunately, that means that assaults and other crimes do take place within schools and Coffman has the task of investigating them.

According to Coffman, prescription drugs and marijuana use is the biggest challenge facing schools today.

“It stands to reason that when alcohol is available in the home, and kids have access to it, they are going to take it to where they choose to drink it,” said Coffman. “The same goes for medical marijuana. If parents don’t lock it up or secure it, kids end up getting into it and bringing it to school.”

Coffman spends most of his time at the high school and middle school, explaining that with a combined student body of over 1,500 students, there is simply more going on in those two buildings.

“I do visit the elementary schools when called on by administrators,” he said. “I give stranger danger talks, address Halloween safety, conduct active shooter drills and investigate child abuse reports.”

But, mostly Coffman watches.

“On a daily basis, I keep a very watchful eye on the campus I am on,” he said. “I look for things that are odd or strange. My situational awareness is very high when I am at school.”

The safe schools alliance has defined a specific protocol for dealing with school violence, requiring that school administrators notify police when law violations occur in and around the school.

If an investigation determines that a crime was committed, officials consult with school administrators to determine if the offense meets the Safe School Alliance criteria for removal from school. If so, the students arrested will be removed from their school campus and transported to the Deschutes County Juvenile Community Justice Center in Bend.

“By continuing this partnership to make our Central Oregon schools safer, these groups are making a very powerful statement,” said Dennis Dempsey, superintendent for ESD. “We are all working together to reduce crime, prevent bullying and create a better environment for students. We can accomplish more as a collaborative group than we could individually,” he added.

For Coffman, school safety is all about awareness and common sense.

“People say that this is Prineville and that it can’t happen here,” he said. “We live in a Western town where people have guns. But schools are not the place for them.”

Members of the alliance meet on the third Wednesday of each month to share information, discuss items of common interest and concern, advise member agencies on the adoption of policy and explore curriculum and programs to prevent bullying and cyber bullying in regional schools.

For more information about the alliance visit: hdesd.org/services/safe-school-alliance.



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